Choosing the best shipping method for your large cargo

Packnet can fabricate a custom engineered crate or package for your large product.   Special foam inserts and cushioning can be designed to minimize shock and vibration.   Corrosion protection products can be used to minimize rust. Handling monitoring products can be used for indicating if the package was mishandled. The custom packaging system can be tested to industry standards to ensure that it will do the job.

While having a robust, well design package or crate for your large cargo is ideal, one still has options in further minimizing damage risk by choosing the carrier method.   One ideal situation is that your load is big enough to fill a dedicated trailer, which allows your load to travel from your shipping dock to its destination without any handling. For companies that have loads that can consume an entire truck, this is a pretty standard arrangement. However, if your load consumes much less than a full trailer, a dedicated truck can become expensive, especially if one uses a common carrier for freight.

Before selecting the option of shipping a smaller load by a shared shipping method and risking added handling as cargo is loaded and unloaded to different trucks, one should at least investigate less than load (LTL) options. LTL is a term in the trucking industry where a trailer is dedicated to a shipment that does not constitute a full load. LTL costs can vary significantly depending on the carrier.   Usually your best option is to work with a freight forwarder or a freight broker. Freight forwarders and brokers don’t own their own trucks, but rather have relationships and contracts with other shipping firms and independent truckers.   By not being “stuck” with one carrier they can shop around for the best deal for their client.

One way to significantly reduce costs is using backhaul.   Backhaul is done by haulers that have delivered a load, and are on the return trip, usually with nothing to bring back. Faced with the prospect of driving an empty truck back home, a trucker will gladly take less than load cargo at a reduced price.

Finding backhaul opportunities is best left to the experts, so using a reputable freight forwarder or broker, who has a network of thousands of carriers to work with, is your best option.   A downfall of backhauling is that one may need to wait a couple extra days with the cargo pick up. However, once the cargo is picked up, the delivery time will usually be much faster than your common carrier.   Also, if your load is less than 1000 lbs, you probably are still going to pay a substantial premium for a dedicated truck.

We mentioned freight broker and freight forwarder: while they are very similar in that they essentially rely on a network of truckers to negotiate a shipment, there is one large difference: Freight brokers are strictly “agents” that connect the customer with the carrier. They will negotiate a price, and they get a fee for that service. However all shipping issues are between the client and carrier. A freight forwarder on the other hand has “ownership” of the process as they act as the shipping entity. So if there is a problem, the freight forwarder will take responsibility for it.

Using a dedicated trailer to haul your cargo not only reduces handling, but requires less logistic support as there are no handoffs to track.   Another advantage is that added bracing and tie downs can be used to ensure that the load does not shift, further reducing the risk of damage.

Even if LTL is not used, it would behoove anyone shipping a large product to spend some time researching their options. For over-the- road trucking these options include:

  • Small local companies: They can provide more attention to customers and their rates in certain situations can be more competitive. Since they are small, they have fewer resources so transit time can suffer.
  • Common Carriers:   These are regional or national firms that use a combination of trucks and terminals to bring a product to its destination. They have fewer limitations on delivery areas, but there is also more handling involved as cargo is moved from truck to terminal for pick up by a different truck.
  • Freight Brokers: They don’t have their own trucks but negotiate with a variety other shipping companies.   They can be a less expensive option than common carriers because of the large amount of shipments that they handle.   However the broker assumes no legal responsibility for the cargo. If there is a problem, the customer may have to deal directly with the carrier for resolution.
  • Freight Forwarders. Like brokers, they work with many different truckers and arrange the best method of transportation for its client. The freight forwarder will take legal responsibility for the freight; as a result, a freight forwarder may be more expensive than a broker in some circumstances. Usually if the load is greater than 1000 pounds, freight forwarders are very cost competitive.

Choosing the best carrier can result in lower shipping cost, less damage risk as well as faster delivery.       When you are using well designed crating and packaging, along with a reliable carrier, you are maximizing your chances of customer satisfaction.